Hemp seed sales are on the rise. The seeds taste delicious, are highly nutritious yet come with a whiff of illegality.
Two stockists contacted by Fairfax Media were too nervous to be named in this article.
''I've heard of recent crackdowns on retailers,'' said one.
Hemp seeds are readily available in shops, but trade occurs on a ''don't ask, don't tell'' basis. It is illegal to sell them for human consumption. They can be sold as ingredients for a facial scrub, for example, but a shopkeeper can't sell them to a customer who divulges an intention to sprinkle them on cornflakes. This is despite no evidence that you can get high on hemp seeds or hemp-seed oil.
''Drink as much hemp-seed oil as you like. It's not going to happen,'' says one retailer who is often asked about its powers.
''Hemp contains no or very low levels of THC, the chemical associated with the psychoactive properties of marijuana,'' according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand. The authority says hemp seeds do, however, contain protein, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. FSANZ considers hemp to have THC levels sufficiently low to make it safe for consumption.
A ministerial review about the legality of hemp seed, taking into account the FSANZ position, was due to conclude last week, but is now expected to go on until later this year. The last review was in 2002, when health ministers rejected a bid to legalise food derived from hemp, saying it could send a confused message to consumers and could affect drug-testing results.
''We have to position them at a certain place in the store,'' explains one retailer. ''That's why they're with the cleaning products, rather than with the rest of our superfoods.''
Hemp seed stockist Francesca Boch urges change. ''If there's a debate, there will be a bombardment. People want to make up their own minds. Eighteen months ago, I sold one packet every three to four weeks. Now I'm selling 10 packets a week.
''We could get into trouble if we sell it as food, so we are very diplomatic about how we term it.''
Out of earshot of customers, a staff member launches into an enthusiastic description of her hemp-seed protein balls. The nutty-flavoured seeds can be sprinkled on salads, and hemp-seed milk (a blend of seeds and water) can be added to smoothies.
Recipe: Raw hemp-seed chocolate fudge balls
1 cup hulled hemp seeds
1/2 cup raw cacao powder
pinch of salt
dash of vanilla extract (organic and cold extracted, if possible)
1/4 cup extra virgin cold-pressed coconut oil, melted
6 medjool dates, pitted
1. Put all the ingredients into a blender and whiz until smooth.
2. Roll the mix into balls.
3. Roll them in your choice of coating, such as cocoa powder or desiccated coconut, and set them in the fridge until firm.